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Students to breathe life into Telford Challenge inspiration

A DELIGHTED Clare Short praised the 'noble' initiative of civil engineers to fulfil their charters, at the launch of the Telford Challenge.

The Secretary of State for the Department for International Development was all smiles as Sir Alan Cockshaw outlined ICE's bid to facilitate simple, sustainable engineering solutions at a grass roots level in developing countries.

The initiative, launched last week at Great George Street, by the four main engineering institutions, the Civils, Structurals, Mechanicals and Electricals in partnership with DFID, has been championed by Cockshaw, who cited a Commonwealth conference in Johannesburg last August as his inspiration.

'At the Commonwealth Engineering Conference in Johannesburg, I realised what a huge fund of knowledge and experience there is within the CEC. The exchange of best practice between engineers throughout the Commonwealth was inspiring and this is our aim with this project.'

The London-based secretariat will set up a database of engineering solutions for water supply and sanitation problems, and operate a one stop shop to give advice. DFID has pledged £600,000 to the scheme over two years, which it is hoped will be boosted by private sponsor-

ship in an 'enabling' fund to

get engineers talking.

'Engineers giving their skills voluntarily will be essential and will be a major contribution to the Challenge, ' said Cockshaw.

Students are seen as the shock troops to spread best practice and a key aim is for every accredited university department to have a Telford Challenge initiative. 'Overseas engineering students in the UK, go back to their countries with a hunger to help solve problems of poverty. We need to give them all the support they need,' said vice president Professor George Fleming speaking at the launch.

Chairman of the Commonwealth Engineering Council Dato'Ir Lee Yee Cheong told NCE: 'We must use participative technology that indigenous people are in a position to sustain. I'm not sure British industry will be very supportive of this because the projects will not be commercial, but the young people at ICE are vital. I've seen time and again how students change their outlook after going out to these countries. They get very motivated to do something meaningful to reduce poverty.'

So delighted is Cheong with the progress achieved in nine months of planning, that he has pledged to fuse strong links with other commonwealth engineering bodies. 'A lot of our engineers are in government and the construction industry. They will identify projects for the Telford Challenge.'

Some engineers with experience of working in developing countries expressed doubts as to how much a scheme which it is hoped will swell into a major charitable fund, will achieve.

'We had the same idea in 1981, and in our experience a much broader range of skills are needed, managerial as well as technical.' said John Lane of Water Aid.

Ruth Macleod of Homelessness International said: 'In our experience a very large listening ear is needed. A lot of energy can be wasted by trying to impose solutions. I recommend emphasis is placed on translation services to ensure full understanding.'

Cockshaw invited all interested parties, sceptical or not, to join the challenge and help iron out any problems foreseen.

Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief chairman Bobby Lambert told NCE that he hoped that the Telford Challenge steering group would be as consultative as possible. 'I think it's important that advice is taken from other non-governmental organisations - people who have experience on the ground. They should be involved in policy formulation. I hope RedR will be on the steering group.'

Despite concerns, the Malaysian chairman of the Commonwealth Engineering Council was clearly delighted: 'I would like to congratulate the ICE for undertaking the Challenge. It is now my fervent hope that young engineers from Commonwealth countries will get the opportunity to participate in this challenge,' said Cheong.

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